Every now and then it pays to take a fresh look at familiar sources. One of the key sources for the early history of Mequon and its parent counties is The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated, published in Chicago in 1881. And even though I’ve been using this book for Clark House research for over a decade, I still discover (or, in this case, re-discover) facts about Mequon—and, specifically, Jonathan M. Clark—that I had either not known before, or had noticed, “filed for future reference,” and forgotten to write about. Today’s post fixes one such omission.1
The first meeting of the Town of Mequon, April 7, 1846
Page 525 of The History… contains a load of information about the beginnings of town government in Spring, 1846. Unfortunately, it’s the sort of densely worded, 19th-century “history” writing that makes the reader want to skip ahead to something less dry. Here, take a look; start with the first full paragraph, beginning “The town was incorporated”…
The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated, Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1881, page 525, pdf of full book via GoogleBooks. Additional online, pdf copies can be found at Hathi Trust, the Wisconsin Historical Society and Archive.org. Click to open larger image in new window.
That’s a lot of info: names, dates, job titles. Let’s break things up a bit and take a closer look at what’s going on as old Washington county transitioned from the original county-wide system of government to the new system, in which each town will be responsible for much of its own governance.
From county to town government, 1846
In the earliest years of the Wisconsin Territory, all of old Washington county had been “attached” to Milwaukee county for judicial and civil government purposes. For several years Milwaukee county collected taxes and provided all legal and governmental services to the future Washington (and Ozaukee) counties. Then, in 1839, Washington county became independent from Milwaukee county for all non-judicial purposes.
In 1839, Washington county had only a few dozen settlers, and it was decided that the whole county could be run by a group of three elected county commissioners aided by other elected and appointed county officers and assistants. This was the beginning of the so-called “county government” era. The hand-written minutes of these very early county government meetings still exist, and we discussed—and mapped—them in some detail in our recent posts County Government – Early Records, Monday: Map Day! The first county roads, 1841, Marking out the roads, Roads into the Woods, 1841, Another Road into the Woods, 1841, and The county’s earliest federal roads (plural).
The pace of immigration into old Washington county in the early-1840s was brisk, and by the mid-1840s many of the best acres had been bought and were being cleared and farmed by new settlers. The county commissioners could not keep up with the rapid growth and needs of county residents. There were too many roads to cut, schools to create, bridges to build and so forth. A change in government structure was needed, and the territorial legislature was on it:
The town [of Mequon] was incorporated by act of the Legislature January 21, 1846. Prior to that time, there had been a voting precinct in the township, but no town organization distinct from the comprehensive organization of the “Town of Washington,” which embraced all the townships in old Washington County, with voting precincts here and there, as new settlements sprung up. Below is a copy of the records of the
First Town Meeting
There are many interesting details here, involving many of Mequon’s early leaders. For today, let’s look at just part of page 525, covering the April 7, 1846, first meeting of the newly-created Town of Mequon, the formative decisions made that day, and the first settlers elected to Town of Mequon government. For clarity, I’m going to add a few line breaks and comments to the original text:
“At a town meeting held pursuant to law in the town of Mequon, at the house of Henry Thein [sic, Thien], on the first Tuesday in April, A. D. 1846, it being the 7th day of said month,
Henry Thien founded the settlement soon to be (and still) known as Thiensville, about 1840. His home was near the geographic center of the new Town of Mequon and would have been a convenient and well-known site for the first town meeting.
the meeting was called to order at 10:30 o’clock, A. M., and it was on motion resolved that a Moderator and Clerk be chosen by the electors now present, by acclamation. Patrick Dockery was chosen Moderator, and Edward H.Jansen, Clerk. The officers chosen appeared and took the oath of office before F. W. Horn, Justice of the Peace, which is prefixed to the poll-list.
Edward H. Jansen and Frederick W. Horn were major figures in the early political, educational, and mercantile history of Mequon and Ozaukee county. Both were German immigrants; Jansen arrived in Mequon in 1839 and Horn in 1841. Each deserves a post or more at Clark House Historian; I’ll see what I can do about that.
Patrick Dockery’s name appears in various early sources, and he seems to have earned the respect of his fellow settlers by the time of this 1846 meeting. But who was he? According to the 1850 federal census, there were two Irish immigrants named Patrick Dockery or Dockry living in the area. One was a 60-year-old farmer in Cedarburg, the other a 30-year-old farmer in Grafton. It’s not clear which Patrick Dockery/Dockry was chosen to be Moderator of this first town meeting.
Next up were a series of motions that created and regulated some of the new Town’s expenditures and sources of income, a resolution to nominate and elect the Town’s first officers, and the creation of a tax to pay for public schools in the Town:
• On motion of F. W. Horn, resolved, that the wages of the town officers not settled by law be $1 per day.
• On motion, resolved. that the Boards of Town Supervisors are hereby authorized to prescribe the necessary amount of taxes to be raised in this town for the different purposes not voted upon by this meeting.
• Proclamation of the opening of the polls was now made. Resolved, that this meeting do now vote by ballot for the different officers.
• On motion, resolved. that one half of 1 per cent shall be raised for the support of common schools.
The meeting needed to address several pressing issues. The first, and perhaps most important, was whether to support the proposed transition of Wisconsin from U.S. territory to full statehood.
• The whole number of votes polled at the election was 140. For State Government, 128; against State Government, 9.
The next items of business seem to be listed in The History in slightly scrambled form. I believe there were two separate issues, the first of which was deciding the location of the Washington County seat. This was an item of great and tedious contention in the early years of the county, and covers far too many pages in early county histories:
• For county seat at Hamburg [i.e., Grafton] 35 votes; Port Washington, 65; Cedarburg, 22; Middle, 13; West Bend, 2; Centre, 2; County Lot, 1.
First town officers – including “J. M. Clarke”
Next on the agenda was the election of officers for the first Town of Mequon government:
• For town officers, 71 [votes]. […] The officers elected were:
• Supervisors, Edward H. Jansen, Patrick Dockey [sic, Dockery], J. M. Clarke [sic, Clark]
• Commissioners of Highways, Charles Kauffung, Samuel C. McEvony
• School Commissioners, Edward H. Jansen, J. P. Bailey, Adolph Zimmerman
• Assessors, Stephen Wescott, Andrew Geidell, Henry Keomer
• Fence Viewer, Philip Herbold
• Constable, Jacob M. Sutton
• Town Clerk, James Cleare
• Collector. W. F. Opitz
• Justice of the Peace, F. W. Horn.
Jonathan Clark, supervisor
The 1846 roster of the town’s new office-holders contains many familiar names of early settlers and businessmen. Some of the most prominent in early days were Jansen, Dockrey, McEvony, Zimmerman, Wescott, Opitz, and Horn; some of these men continued to lead local affairs for years afterwards. There are many names that are now more obscure, such as Kauffung, Geidell, Keomer, Herbold, Sutton and Cleare. More work needs to be done to understand their roles in early Mequon history. And there’s “J. M. Clarke.”
At this 1846 meeting Jonathan M. Clark has once more been elected to local office. In 1841, he was appointed by the original Washington county commissioners to be the first superintendent of county road district no. 2, covering the northeast quadrant of the future Town of Mequon. Now, five years later, he has been elected one of the first supervisors of the Town of Mequon. Five years further on, in 1851, Jonathan Clark’s home will be the official site to deposit bids for the Mequon portion of a proposed plank road from Milwaukee to Cedarburg and beyond. Clearly, the early settlers had confidence in their neighbor, J. M. Clark.
There’s more to discover
The hand-written minutes of the 1841-1846 Washington county commissioners still exist; we discussed them earlier posts (links above) and you can download a pdf copy of the minutes here. I have skimmed through all 107 pages of those 1841-1846 minutes, and they contain more details of Jonathan M. Clark’s early service to the county that still need to be transcribed and added to our timeline.
And where are the minutes for the Town of Mequon government, beginning in April, 1846? Do they still exist? Perhaps the originals are still owned by the City of Mequon, or perhaps they have been archived with one of our local historical societies? I’d love to read them someday; I believe they could tell us much about the daily lives and community service of early settlers such as Jonathan Clark, Peter Turck, William T. Bonniwell and many others.
Mequon historians: what do you know about the town minutes starting in April, 1846? Any clues or hot tips as to where they are hiding? Let me know.
Back soon with more local history.
- The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated, Chicago, 1881, appears to be the source of many—if not most—subsequent histories of both counties, and of the Town of Mequon. It is an essential (but not infallible) resource. And the good news is that you can get a free, searchable and downloadable pdf copy for yourself by going here.